SF Genres/Sub-genres, Templates, and Motifs


Science Fiction is itself a genre, of course, a type or form of literature, of genre fiction, with distinctive, identifiable characteristics, its own conventions and formulae, its own sub-genres, its own motifs, and its own iconography. Webster's New World Dictionary defines generic as: of, applied to, or referring to a whole kind, class, or group; inclusive or general. 

But "generic" can also mean (WNWD's second meaning) "without a brand name." Several years ago a publisher/marketer, aware of both meanings, released--at Christmas as I recall, and about the same time that "generic" drugs" became part of the national consciousness--a series of "generic" books: genre books with plain white (generic)covers, each with a title like "Generic Western," "Generic Horror," "Generic Science Fiction." Below each title appeared a generic guarantee:  "Guaranteed to include a cowboy, an Indian, a bad guy in a black hat, a horse, a runaway stagecoach, etc." (on the Western, of course). I don't recall precisely what the generic SF novel's guarantee said, but I would imagine that it  probably made mention of space travel, robots, the future, time travel.

Science Fiction is a genre of course but it is hardly generic (in the WNWD's second sense). The question of SF as a genre is, of course, a major topic of this course. On this page you will find materials to assist you in your own consideration.

On Genre
Thomas Schatz's life history of a genre (from Hollywood Genres) :
an experimental stage, during which its conventions are isolated and established, a classic stage, in which the conventions reach their “equilibrium” and are mutually understood by artist and audience, an age of refinement, during which certain formal and stylistic details embellish the form, and finally a baroque (or “mannerist,” or “self-reflexive”) stage, when the form and its establishments are accented to the point where they “themselves become the “substance” or “content” of the work.” (37-38)
Genre films essentially ask the audience, "Do you still want to believe this?" Popularity is the audience answering, "Yes."  Change in genre occurs when the audience says, "That's too infantile a form of what we believe. Show us something more complicated." And genres turn to self-parody to say, "Well, at least if we make fun of it for being infantile, it will show how far we've come." Films and television have in this way speeded up cultural history.  Leo Braudy, The World in a Frame
Some Science Fiction Templates and Motifs
from David Pringle's The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
Alien Intrusians 
Alien Life 
Alternative Histories 
Artificial Intelligence 
Comic SF 
Cosmic Collisions 
Cutting-Edge Technology 
Dinosaurs & Other Survivals 
Disaster Stories 
Dying Earth, The 
Elixir of Life, The 
Endangered Environment
Future Cities 
Genetic Engineering 
Lost Races 
Mental Powers 
Nuclear War & Its Aftermath 
Overpopulation and Pollution 
Parallel Worlds 
Planetary Romance 
Robots and Androids 
Sex Wars
Space Habitats 
Space Opera 
Space Travel
Supermen & Other Mutants 
Superweapons and Future Wars 
Suspended Animation 
Teleportation & Matter Transmission 
Time Travels 
Under the Surface